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Radio Interview with Assistant Secretary of Defense McHale on the Rusty Humphreys SHow

Presenter: Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul McHale
May 16, 2006 1:30 PM EDT

     Rusty Humphreys:  Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, Paul McHale.  Welcome to the Rusty Humphreys Show.  How are you, sir?


     McHale:  Rusty, I’m doing great.  Glad to be with you.


     Rusty Humphreys:  I’m looking over your bio.  You’ve been in homeland security since 2003, but you’re no staunch Bush Republican, been there your whole life.  You actually were a Democrat, right?


     McHale:  I was and I am.  I have served as a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania legislature and have served in the Congress back in the 1990s as a Democrat.  I guess the point I would make is when it comes to the defense of our nation we’re not Republicans or Democrats.  We’re Americans.  It was in that spirit that Secretary Rumsfeld approached me and asked me to take this position and I was honored to accept.


     Rusty Humphreys:  Amen, brother.  I agree with you on that one.  More of us need to be like that.


     Tell me about your opinions on the President’s speech and what we’re doing.  As the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, this is your job, what he’s talking about, right?


     McHale:  Well, it’s part of my job and a very important part.  The President recognized that we had to gain control of the integrity of our borders and that while the Department of Homeland Security has the primary responsibility to ensure that we safeguard the nation along our borders, there’s a lot that the Department of Defense, specifically in this case the National Guard can do, to augment, to reinforce the capabilities of DHS.  Most especially as a bridge to improved civilian capability so that in the short term we put our shoulder to the wheel, help DHS, give them time to build up some of their civilian capabilities with the expectation that about a year and a half, maybe two years down the road, the civilians can step back into some of the positions and we can pull the Guard off the positions that they’ll have.


     Rusty Humphreys:  Because a lot of people say 6,000 Guard, that doesn’t really sound like a lot.


     McHale:  Well, it’s a pretty substantial number when you compare it to the status quo.  We have been executing these kinds of support missions since about 1989.  Typically we’ve done it as part of the counter-drug program.  I checked yesterday and we had 400 National Guardsmen in pre-assigned mission requirements assisting the Department of Homeland Security and DEA in counter-drugs.  We’re going to go from that 400 up to potentially 6,000 in the first year.  That, if you talk to anybody in Customs and Border Protection, that will provide to them much needed relief in order to use some of their law enforcement officers for some of the responsibilities that are properly entrusted to law enforcement, while we do things such as aerial surveillance.  We’re going to put up helicopters, we’re going to use other aerial imagery to watch vast expanses of the U.S. border in order to detect the movement of illegal immigrants across that border.  We’ve been doing that to some degree since 1989, but we’re going to be much more robust in terms of the number of people and the number of platforms, helicopters and so on, that we use for that.


     Then when we see somebody or groups of somebodies crossing the border illegally we will notify Customs and Border Protection, their agents will be on the ground, and guided by our aerial surveillance they will target in on the illegal movement and make the apprehensions.


     We’re going to build barriers, we’re going to build fences, we’re going to engage in intelligence assessment in order to have a better indication of where cross border movement might take place.


     We’ve done these things in the past, but at the President’s direction we’re going to dramatically ramp up the level of National Guard engagement to do what we have done in the past but with many more people in many more places with much more equipment.


     Rusty Humphreys:  I like the idea you all are getting involved.  I think you need to.  Although I’m a little puzzled on why not helping in actual law enforcement which the President said specifically they weren’t going to do.  I’ve been on the border, I’ve ridden with the Border Patrol, and you can see the groups of illegal immigrants that are about to cross the border.  They have 10 or 15 groups of 15 people and they know the Border Patrol can only catch about half of those.  So are we not, it seems like we almost have the same problems.  We’re going to see them cross. We’ll know they’re crossing.  But we don’t have a way to stop them.


     McHale:  I think by taking over responsibilities from Customs and Border Protection that they might otherwise have to execute themselves, we’ll free up law enforcement officers who will be available for interdiction.


     I have absolute confidence that when we from let’s say a National Guard helicopter spot a group of people illegally crossing the border, that we will have sufficient Customs and Border Protection agents to actually conduct the interdiction on the ground.  The policy decision going back quite a long period of time is that we’re not going to militarize the border.  The way we look at that is if we are in a supporting role to the Department of Homeland Security, that’s terrific.  But if we take over actual law enforcement and security functions along our border we have in effect militarized the border and that’s not the direction which this President wants to head, nor have previous Presidents wanted to militarize the border either on the North or on the South.


     Rusty Humphreys:  Why is that bad, do you think?  I know it’s not your decision, but why do you think that’s a bad idea to put the military there to “militarize” it?


     McHale:  I think it goes to the character of our nation.  That is when people break the law we expect within the United States the law is ordinarily going to be enforced by civilian law enforcement officials.  It goes to the nature of our civilian government, our judicial system, and the kinds of responsibilities and rights that attach to the Constitution and the laws of the United States.


     What I’d recommend to you is, when I left the Congress I went back to Pennsylvania and I taught for a little bit at the college level, and I taught a course on the Federalist Papers.  Alexander Hamilton who was one of the great founders of our nation wrote Federalist 8.  In Federalist 8, he talked about the important requirement that we recognize that the role of the military within the United States, as opposed to overseas warfighting, but within our own country, the role of the military should be limited.  That has been the case since 1787, and one of the principles that flows from that is that law enforcement within our own country should ordinarily be the responsibility of civilian law enforcement officials.  Now in an extraordinary case there are statutory authorities, the Insurrection Act, the President can invoke the Insurrection Act and he can use military forces for law enforcement activities, but we don’t want to do that on a recurring or routine basis.


     The kind of country we are is depicted, at least in part, on the recognition that law enforcement ought to be left to civilians.


     Rusty Humphreys:  Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, Paul McHale, is here on the Rusty Humphreys Show.


     You’re not just some suit, and not just some Congress guy with a silver spoon in your mouth, you actually served in our military.  You actually served, right?


     McHale:  Actually, with deep regret I’m about to retire.  I was commissioned as a Marine officer 34 years ago.  When I left Congress I went back home to Pennsylvania and got back in the Marine Reserve and on September 11th I was an assistant division commander.  If I have any regret in my current civilian position it’s that it hasn’t allowed much time for a decent haircut and putting a Marine uniform back on which is something that I’ve loved for more than three decades.


     Rusty Humphreys:  A lot of the criticism is well, we’re already stretching our military too thin and putting the National Guard on the borders is just going to make these guys upset and we’re not going to get a good retention rate.  You’re a guy that’s had the uniform on.  What’s your take on that?


     McHale:  I really don’t think there’s validity to that concern.  I understand where it’s coming from.  But in fact, on any given day, even if we run up to the maximum number of 6,000, that’s two percent of the 450,000 members of the National Guard.  Moreover, for a man or a woman coming back from an overseas tour, there is a six-month hold harmless period in which that individual coming back from overseas duty will not be obligated to perform annual training. That’s the status in which these National Guardsmen are going to be engaged in these mission assignments.


     So no one is going to come back from overseas and be sent down involuntarily to the border area.  The overall percentage of the force at any given point in time will be about two percent of the total.  So I think for the most part there will be strong support within the National Guard for this mission.  There’s a recognition, certainly, that it’s an important mission, and I don’t think it’s going to have an adverse effect on the quality of life for the individual Guardsmen.


     Rusty Humphreys:  As we wrap things up here, is there anything else you think the American people should know to help understand what’s going on here?


     McHale:  I think it’s to recognize that we have struck the right balance.  That is that using the National Guard for this kind of mission in support of a civilian agency, DHS, is going to make our country safer.  We have tremendous capabilities within the Department of Defense that consistent with our heritage, consistent with the kinds of things that I referenced earlier with regard to Alexander Hamilton and the limited role of the military, there’s a lot that we can do to help DHS build their law enforcement capacity and provide assistance in the day-to-day missions that allow us to have a controlled and secure border.  That’s really the President’s intent.  He doesn’t want the National Guard or the Department of Defense to take on this mission into perpetuity.  This is something we’re going to do for a period of time so that we can build up a greater number of law enforcement officials and better capabilities in the civilian community so that having provided that backstop to the civilian community we will in fact be able to pull the military off the mission knowing that even after we do that with better civilian capabilities we as a nation will be more secure.


     Rusty Humphreys:  Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, Paul McHale.  Thank you so much for being on the Rusty Humphreys Show and thank you for your service to your country, even though you are a Democrat.  Thank you.


     McHale:  [Laughter].  Rusty, it’s my pleasure.  Thanks for having me on.


     Rusty Humphreys:  Take care, sir.  Bye, bye.

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